DENVER — The EPA spill that contaminated rivers in Colorado and New Mexico was bad enough, but now Navajo Nation officials are fuming after a delivery of water for livestock and crops arrived in dirty oil tanks.
Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye’s finger came up brown and oily after he ran it inside the spigot of a water tank, one of nine delivered by an EPA contractor to Shiprock, New Mexico, in the aftermath of the accident that sent orange mining waste down the Animas and San Juan rivers.
“This is what they expect our animals to drink and to use this and pollute our farmland, our canals?” said Mr. Begaye in video posted Wednesday on his Facebook page.
“This is totally unacceptable. How can anybody give water from a tank like this that was clearly an oil tank and expect us to drink it, our animals to drink it? And to contaminate our soil with this?” said Mr. Begaye. “It’s just wrong. Clearly, it’s wrong.”
In separate statements Thursday, the EPA and its contractor, Triple S Trucking in Aztec, New Mexico, told KOB-TV in Albuquerque that they will investigate the problem.
“Triple S Trucking has received assurances that each of the tanks that were used were steam cleaned and inspected prior to use at Shiprock,” said the company’s statement. “Triple S Trucking will continue to work cooperatively to investigate this complaint about contamination of the agricultural water.”
The episode comes as another black eye for the EPA, which is already under investigation for accidentally triggering the 3-million-gallon torrent of wastewater from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, and then waiting 24 hours before reporting it.
“Every new development of the EPA spill story is worse than the last,” said Jonathan Lockwood, head of the free-market group Advancing Colorado.
In another video, Mr. Begaye draws a cup of water from the tanker’s spigot that comes up speckled with oily debris.
“It just angers us,” he said. “We told them to haul all this stuff off.”
Navajo and agency officials have agreed that Friday will be the last day for EPA water deliveries for farmland and livestock, according to the EPA.
“EPA will work closely with the Navajo Nation in the coming weeks to ensure that a long-term monitoring plan for the San Juan River is implemented,” said the EPA in a Thursday statement. “In addition, EPA is positioned to provide technical assistance in flushing irrigation ditches on the Navajo Nation.”
The Navajo Nation had refused to turn on its intakes from the San Juan River until its own environmental agency gave the water a clean bill of health. Other communities in Colorado and New Mexico reopened their valves last weekend after EPA testing found the Animas and San Juan rivers at pre-spill conditions.
The Interior Department and the EPA’s Office of Inspector General are investigating the Aug. 5 accident.